Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Best View of Paris is from the Top

La Tour Eiffel. La Tour Montparnasse. La Pyramide du Louvre. These are some of the most controversial buildings in Paris. Why were they so controversial at the time of their construction, and do they remain so?

La Tour Eiffel was constructed 1889 for L'Exposition universelle (World Fair) as a demonstration of French engineering prowess. It was never meant to be an architectural masterpiece. When it was built, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world at 324 meters (1063 ft) tall, far surpassing the Washington Monument (169 meters, 555 ft), which had previously held the title. It was nearly twice as tall as the tallest structure anyone at the fair had ever seen – the Burj Kalifa of its time. In this sense it was surely an engineering feat to boast about.

La Tour seen from Trocadero
However, this also means the structure was designed with height and structural integrity in mind, not design. Therefore, it offended aesthetic Parisians, who valued the art and architecture of their beautiful city. They attested that bigger was not better, that the beauty of Paris was in limestone facades and architecture that evokes a rich history, not a giant tower made of sheet metal.

Today, la Tour Eiffel is a Parisian icon, as French as the pyramids are Egyptian. As an MIT student, I'm probably biased. If I were a 19th Century Parisian, I would likely be supporting Gustave Eiffel with great enthusiasm. I am enamored by the ceaseless human quest for higher. Also, I disagree with the aesthetic Parisians on another point – I find la Tour beautiful.

Gorgeous metalwork at the base of the tower

La Tour Montparnasse is another controversial building in Paris. The modern style and sleek black exterior contrasts sharply with the traditional limestone buildings of Paris. Paris is not a city of gratte-ciels, and I believe that this is an asset. I agree with the Parisians on this count - La Tour Montparnasse is awkward and out of place in the 15th Arrondissement. The best view of Paris is certainly from the roof of La Tour Montparnasse (even if it's really windy up there).

Anyway that tower was clearly a bad idea.
Finally, we have La Pyramide du Louvre. This glass pyramid serves as the entrance to the most visited museum in the world. In theory, I do like La Pyramide. It is all glass, which lets in a lot of natural light, and the design (however modern) harkens back to another age. The first time I visited the Louvre, I liked La Pyramide.

However, during our tour on Saturday I looked at La Pyramide and considered why Parisians disliked it. I imagined the Louvre, which was once a palace, without La Pyramide. Later I googled it, to confirm my suspicions:

Ah, what a lovely palace turned museum!


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